I’ll be honest: I used to generally try to avoid kids with special needs if I could. Aside from the awkwardness of not knowing how to react or interact, I also failed to understand how families of kids with severe disabilities stayed sane. Feeding, dressing, washing, and changing older kids’ diapers was not my idea of a good time, and I didn’t know how they did it.
Then I had a kid of my own. We didn’t realize it when Moishy was born, but during routine testing when he was 3 months old, they told us that his head was not growing, among other issues, and further testing was necessary. This news sent us on a crazy whirlwind of doctors, hospitals, cat scans, x-rays, and more. Eventually the diagnosis was clear: Our beautiful boy had cerebral palsy and microcephaly.
I looked myself in the mirror and realized that I had to change. Now I had my very own child with special needs. Avoidance was no longer an option.
Having a special needs child was a real shock to us and we had no idea what to expect. It was painful to send him to an early intervention school in Jerusalem each day when he was only 1 years old. Who does that? Who sends their baby on a bus an hour each way at 1 years old? I thought my faith was solid, and that I had to be strong for my wife. I remember talking to a good friend of mine about a year after Moishy was diagnosed, telling him how strong I was and how I didn’t let it affect me. He looked at me and said, “Are you kidding me? You gained 100 pounds this year!” He was right, and I didn’t even realize it.
A turning point for me was when Moishy was 2.5 and contracted bacterial meningitis. Though the doctors predicted that, if he survived, he would spend the rest of his life in a vegetative state, he recovered completely. Almost losing Moishy and spending those long, torturous weeks in the hospital brought me closer to him than I ever thought possible. When he came home, I hugged him hard, and I was a different father.
Though I overcame my own fears and reservations surrounding kids with special needs through my son, taking Moishy out in public has always been a challenge. He is stared at by other children and people cross the street to avoid him; in other words, they react to Moishy just like I reacted to kids with special needs before I had my own. It hurts beyond belief, given how much I love him and how much love he has to give. When you have a child with special needs, you get back more than you give. And I want nothing more than for the world to open up to what Moishy, and other kids like him, have to offer.
As a family, we feel empowered by our own transformative experiences and emboldened by Moishy’s gifts. Our story isn’t unique, but it has to be told over and over again, until each and every one of us is smiling at kids with special needs, hearts open.
Find out how you can get involved in Richard’s project “Zip Up For Special Needs,” which aims to spread awareness for those with special needs and disabilities.